What a great International Association for Food Protection show in Indianapolis in August! It was bigger and better than ever.

A couple of things made a huge impression on me:

There were over 25 pathogen diagnostic platforms on the exhibit floor.

While not an official accounting, someone who was counting told me they quit at 30. This represents a dramatic increase from even 5 to 10 years ago. Maybe all of these companies are reading the market research reports from Strategic Consulting, extolling the size and growth of the pathogen testing market.

Too many choices and too much risk are hindering change.

On the exhibit floor, I had a conversation with a long-time contact who is director of quality at a national food company. We talked about the proliferation of pathogen diagnostic choices and how it is inhibiting rather than fostering change. He sees no significant benefit in switching from his current platform, which not only works well but also is well established in his plants. Changing to save 50¢ or trim a few hours of production time is not worth it to him.

He was frank in admitting that he is afraid of the risks involved in change and overwhelmed by the choices. In essence, he said: Who knows, in six months something newer and better might come along and I will have wasted time, money, and effort in switching. Plus my boss will be upset with the money spent on the instrument.

Has the pathogen testing market become like the 24-flavor jam table?

There is a classic study on choice known as the jam study. In 2000, Sheena Lyengar and Mark Lepper published “When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?” which examined the consequences of having limited versus extensive choices. The research involved a field experiment in an upscale grocery store in which customers encountered either a table with a limited choice of six Wilkin & Sons jams or a table with an extensive choice of 24 jams from the same company. Everyone who approached the display table was invited to taste as many jams as they liked, and was given a $1-off coupon to purchase a Wilkin & Sons jam.

The key finding was that the 24-flavor table attracted more attention yet it resulted in fewer buyers: Just 3 percent of people who stopped at the 24-flavor table went on to buy jam, whereas 30 percent of shoppers who visited the 6-flavor table left the store with jam in hand. And while it seems logical that people who had more options would sample more flavors, which was not the case. People able to sample from 24 jams tasted an average of 1.5, while those who could chose from six sampled an average of 1.38 jams.

Has the pathogen testing market become like the 24-flavor jam table? Are there just too many choices without significant differentiation, and is that causing hesitation to change?

Tom Weschler is President/Founder of Strategic Consulting, Inc. (SCI). SCI is the leading provider of market research and business consulting services for the food safety market. He can be reached at weschler@strategic-consult.com or 802.457.9933.